RIP Cho Ramaswamy

Cho was the only person late Jayaram Jayalalithaa had a sneaky admiration for, and she always sought his counsel whenever she was in a tight situation


Cho Ramaswamy — journalist, satirist, actor, director and political commentator — passed away on Wednesday at the Apollo Hospital in Chennai. He was 82.

Cho (real name: Srinivasa Iyer Ramaswamy) was 82 and was founder-editor of the political magazine Thuglak and was extremely close to the late Chief Minister and AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa. He knew Jayalalithaa as a child and also acted with her on stage for YG Parthasarathy’s theatre group United Amateur Artists, and later in films. He was also very close to superstar Rajinikanth.

Politicians such as JB Kripalani, Indira Gandhi, Karunanidhi, Chandra Shekhar, GK Moopanar, MG Ramachandran, Jayalalithaa, Ramakrishna Hegde, NT Rama Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and LK Advani, Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram have been some of the targets of his editorial attacks.

Cho Ramaswamy recently applauded Narendra Modi on his decisions and works towards the development of the country. He was nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the President of India, KR Narayanan. He served as a Rajya Sabha MP from November 1999 to November 2005.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to twitter to eulogise Cho, “Cho Ramaswamy was a multidimensional personality, towering intellectual, great nationalist & fearless voice who was respected and admired.” However, the prime minister did not stop at that. He went on to share two videos on his Twitter timeline from an annual readers meeting that speak volumes about the close bond the two men shared.

In one video, Ramaswamy, while introducing PM Modi (then the chief minister of Gujarat), plays upon the famous ‘Merchant of Death’ reference to shower lavish praise on him. Remember, the term was first used by Congress president Sonia Gandhi to target Modi in the aftermath of the 2002 riots. But Ramaswamy puts a different spin on it.

Cho and Jayalalithaa were fiercely religious and had a common enemy in the atheist DMK strongman M Karunanidhi.  And coincidentally Cho, suffering from age-related ailments, was admitted in a room on the same floor where Jayalalithaa was fighting for her life at the Apollo Hospital. He died a day after she did.  In August 2015, when he was undergoing treatment at Apollo, Jayalalithaa had visited him and wished him a “speedy recovery as she needs him as a friend, philosopher and guide”.

Cho was the only person Jayalalithaa had a sneaky admiration for, and she always sought his counsel whenever she was in a tight situation. In many off-the-record meetings early in her political career, Jayalalithaa had told select journalists that he (Cho) had given her the mental strength to carry on in politics at a time when she wanted to call it a day. But Jayalalithaa had a roller coaster friendship with Cho over varied issues like her closeness to Sasikala Natarajan, his criticism of her corrupt regime and his political moves.

In 1996, Cho was instrumental in stitching together an alliance between DMK and Moopanar’s TMC to fight Jayalalithaa’s unpopular and corrupt regime. Cho also roped in his other close friend — superstar Rajinikanth — whose famous punch line “even God cannot save Tamil Nadu if Jayalalithaa comes back to power” brought DMK back to power.  At that time, Jayalalithaa hit back and said that Cho should stop claiming he was her friend.

Later, they patched up and he was back to mentoring her. He advised Jaya in 2011 (when she came back to power), to distance herself from Sasikala. In fact, on Cho’s advice, Sasikala and her clan were thrown out of Poes Garden in December 2011. However, Sasi made a strong comeback to Poes Garden a few months later and since then, the relationship between them was frosty. Cho unsuccessfully tried for a BJP-ADMK alliance for the 2013 parliament election to help Narendra Modi to gain a foothold in Tamil Nadu, but it did not materialise.

Early this year, on the day of Pongal (14 January), Cho invited ADMK MLA Pala Karupaiah for his Thuglak annual conference. Karupaiah, a critic of Sasikala, lashed out at the corruption in the Jayalalithaa regime at the conference. This upset Jayalalithaa, who as per the grapevine stopped talking to Cho and subsequently all government advertisements for Thuglak were stopped. They never made up after that incident.

In the late 1990s, when Rajinikanth helped the DMK-TMC to come to power, there were rumours that Cho was mentoring him to replace Jayalalithaa. However sources close to the actor say that they only exchanged their views. Cho had said in interviews that an honest and a no-nonsense person like Rajinikanth would find the going difficult if he entered the cesspool of TN politics.

The buzz is that Rajinikanth was more interested in safe guarding his superstardom than entering politics. Please note even now, the BJP has not given up hope to persuade him to join them in their quest to make an impact in the Dravidian state.  Meanwhile, Rajinikanth was the first actor to visit Cho’s house and pay condolences to his wife, when the news of his demise broke on Wednesday. He told the media gathered there: “He never compromised on his writings for anybody’s sake. May his soul rest in peace?”

Cho was a powerful playwright and political analyst with in-depth knowledge of the situation in Tamil Nadu. He was also brutally frank. Now more than ever, his gifts will be missed at this critical juncture in Tamil Nadu politics.